Friday, April 7, 2017

75 years ago: Church of Norway clergy resign as civil servants while continuing as pastors

On Easter Sunday, April 5, 1942, bishops and a majority of the Church of Norway's pastors signed and proclaimed The Foundation of the Church: A Confession and a Declaration (Kirkens Grunn: En bekjennelse og en erklæring), in which they resigned as servants of the state, but vowed to continue their congregations as pastors. The declaration culminated a period of increasing frustration of the church with the government since the military forces of Nazi Germany had invaded and occupied Norway in 1940.

The Church of Norway, which was Lutheran and had a history of teaching obedience to the state, tried to get along with the Nazi occupation government, but the Nazis refused to honour their promises to respect Norwegians' freedom of religion or the Church's government and practices. On February 1, 1942, Vidkun Quisling was installed as Minister President of Norway; the country's equivalent of the Nazi Party was the Nasjonal Samling. On the day that Mr. Quisling took office, a mob of his sympathizers invaded Nidaros Cathedral and refused to allow the cathedral's dean to conduct services. The congregation gathered outside to sing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," and all seven Church of Norway bishops resigned the next day.

Church Primate Eivind Berggrav was arrested shortly after the Easter declaration, and spent some time in Bredtvet concentration camp. The minority of pastors who didn't go along with the Easter declaration were tarred with the label of Quisling, and were not respected by the Norwegian people. The majority of Church of Norway clergy provided an inspiring example to Norwegians at large in resisting a state that was not only illegally and unpopularly occupying the country, but wasn't content to be just the state, but was refusing to respect the church's God-given role as the church. It's also worth noting that persecution by the state authorities produced a period of needed, if brief, independence for a church which under normal conditions was affiliated with the state, which was and is not the will of God. The existence in Europe of state churches, where people are "hatched, matched, and dispatched," has played a major role in that continent's sad drift into secular humanism, which can't stand against militant Islam. Courageous Christian pastors can still be found today, mainly in countries such as India, Myanmar, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, and Islamic nations.

For those interested in further reading, a recent book on the Church of Norway's experience during World War II (which inclued helping Jews) is Church Resistance to Nazism in Norway, 1940-1945 by Arne Hassing (2014).

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